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Posted: Wednesday February 17, 2010 11:22AM; Updated: Wednesday February 17, 2010 12:12PM
Joe Posnanski

Baseball predictions in February? Hey, it's never too early

Story Highlights

The Phillies rank as the best team in the National League by a large margin

There are great players everywhere in the AL East -- even in Toronto

The Mariners are great defensively, but need a major boost on offense

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Colby Rasmus
On a stacked Cardinals team, Colby Rasmus might be the most exciting player in the NL Central, but he's still not the best center fielder.
David E. Klutho/SI

So, I have been playing around with a new baseball prediction system. I would like to tell you that it's complicated... and it is extremely complicated. But I don't want to confuse the word "complicated" with "stupid." I suspect my system is both.* It's versatile that way.

*I suppose it's complicated in the same way that my childhood version of Monopoly was complicated. The first person to land on Free Parking had to sing the entire first verse of REO Speedwagon's "Take it on the Run," and if he could sing it in its entirety then he could take any single property EXCEPT Park Place and Boardwalk, and the person who pulled the one-eyed jack out of the chance pile (because we had playing cards in there) had to try and get a Yahtzee small straight or else he would have to ride the Reading Railroad until someone else got the suicide king... and so on.

In my prediction system, I basically use a statistical and scouting bouillabaisse to rank the players on each team. And then I... well, look, I can't remember the whole thing right now. All I can tell you is that I rank players, add some stuff together, subtract some stuff, multiply by pi (or divide by pi)... and... voila... a baseball prediction system!

It's the perfect Hot Stove system... perfect, because it's pointless and ridiculously flawed and I'm fairly certain (and fairly hopeful) that people will have forgotten all about it long before the baseball season actually begins.

I should tell you that a big part of the system involves the ranking of players. I ranked each team's top three starters, closer and everyday players on a 20-80 scouting scale, with 80 being Albert Pujols and, well, here's a little cheat sheet:

80 -- Albert Pujols

75-79 -- The best of the best not named Pujols. Only a handful of players in baseball in this group. Joe Mauer is a 78.

70-74 -- Great players. Chase Utley is a 73.

65-69 -- All-Star caliber players. Kevin Youkilis is a 68.

60-64 -- Very good players. Raul Ibanez is a 61.

55-59 -- I'd say 55 is about an average every day player. I have Cleveland's Jhonny Peralta as a 55.

50-54 -- Now, we're getting into below average territory, but these guys can be very useful. Mark Teahen is a 53.

45-49 -- The worst every day players. For various reasons, I did not allow any everyday player to score lower than 45. So, yes, Yuniesky Betancourt was a 45 for me.

I won't bore you with all the ratings, but I do list off the players who ranked highest at each position in each division*. I then used those ratings to calculate some predictions. Like I say, complicated and ridiculous. But it's February. And, really, something has to get us through the winter months.

*Quick note: From early reader response, it seems that people miss the point that I really do rank players BY POSITION. So I rank No. 1 starters, No. 2 starters and No. 3 starters. Obviously Joe Saunders is not the third-best starter in the AL West, but I have him as the best third starter. Same with outfield -- I rank right fielders and left fielders separately.

So now that you are thoroughly confused... here we go.

National League East

Best players, by position:
No. 1 pitcher: Roy Halladay, Philadelphia
No. 2 pitcher: Cole Hamels, Philadelphia
No. 3 pitcher: Jair Jurrjens, Atlanta
Closer: Francisco Rodriguez, Mets
Catcher: Brian McCann, Atlanta
First baseman: Ryan Howard, Philadelphia
Second baseman: Chase Utley, Philadelphia
Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez, Florida
Third baseman: Ryan Zimmerman, Washington
Right field: Jayson Werth, Philadelphia
Center field: Carlos Beltran, Mets
Left field: Jason Bay, Mets

Best pitcher in the division: Halladay just edges Johan Santana. Well, there are extenuating circumstances. Santana is coming off surgery. And most people feel that Halladay, who was so dominant in the slugging American League East, will really thrive in the National League. I tend to agree.

Then again, I also think it's easy to underrate Johan Santana. Since 2003 he is 111-51 with a 153 ERA+ and 1,504 strikeouts against only 354 walks. He won the Cy Young in 2004 and 2006, and easily could have won it in 2005 and 2008. The thing is, he's still reasonably young -- he turns 31 in March, making him only about a year older than CC Sabathia and two years younger than Roy Halladay.

Best player in the division: Hanley Ramirez. Other candidates are Utley, Howard, Zimmerman and the Mets' David Wright. Especially if Wright regains his power stroke.

And the predictions:

Philadelphia: 96-66
My system has Philadelphia as the best pitching team in the division (just ahead of Atlanta) and also has them as by far the best offensive team. The Phillies rank as the best team in the National League by quite a bit.

Atlanta: 88-74
If Tim Hudson is healthy, that 1-2-3 of Hudson, Tommy Hanson and Jurrjens, with Derek Lowe as a fourth, looks awfully good. It's Bobby Cox's final year... and if he gets that kind of good starting pitching then I think the Braves are a good bet to win the wild card. And wouldn't it be justice if after all the close calls, Cox and the Braves win a World Series when they are clearly NOT the best team?

New York: 82-80
Questions galore. Will David Wright regain his power? Will Jose Reyes stay healthy? Will Carlos Beltran get healthy? Will Jeff Francoeur play as well as he did in the second half of last season? Will Mike Pelfrey develop into a legit No. 2 starter? Will the Mets really sock the ball? Knock those home runs over the wall? East side, West side, will they all come down? To meet the M-E-T-S Mets of New York Town?

Florida: 81-81
Terrific young pitching, led by potential Cy Young Award winner Josh Johnson, but even with the remarkable Hanley and Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan, the system says that runs could be hard to come by.

Washington: 65-97
I actually like the direction of the Nationals... and if Stephen Strasburg makes a huge splash I think they could be a surprise. But the system pegs them for another last place season.

National League Central

Best players, by position:
No. 1 pitcher: Chris Carpenter, St. Louis
No. 2 pitcher: Adam Wainwright, St. Louis
No. 3 pitcher: Ryan Dempster, Chicago
Closer: Francisco Cordero, Cincinnati
Catcher: Yadier Molina, St. Louis
First base: Albert Pujols, St. Louis
Second base: Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati
Shortstop: Ryan Theriot, Chicago
Third base: Aramis Ramirez, Chicago
Right field: Hunter Pence, Houston
Center field: Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh
Left field: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee

Best pitcher: Adam Wainwright. I wasn't sure whether to list Carpenter or Wainwright as the Cardinals No. 1 starter. I ranked Carpenter No. 1 out of respect for his comeback and because he was so dominant when he pitched last season. For health reasons, though, I think Wainwright is the best bet in the division to have a great year. Chicago's Carlos Zambrano and Houston's Roy Oswalt are a couple of other candidates.

Best player: Albert Pujols. Who else? I have only two other 70s players in the division, both from Milwaukee: Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun.

And the predictions:

St. Louis: 93-69
I think Colby Rasmus might be the most exciting young player in the division -- him or McCutchen in Pittsburgh.... I wonder if Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan will pull off some magic with starter Brad Penny. It's amazing how Duncan simplifies things and teaches pitchers to stick with their strengths. I have no idea what, if anything, Penny has left, but I think he picked the right team.

Chicago: 86-76
Derrek Lee is one of the more underrated players in baseball. Since 2000 he has a 130 OPS+. He had the amazing 2005, when he had a season that was basically interchangeable with MVP Albert Pujols. Lee had what was probably the second-best year of his career in 2009 -- .306/.393/.579 with 35 homers. And he has had four or five other years that were just about as good.

Cincinnati: 77-85
The Reds are one of the media's hot preseason picks. And I can see why -- they seem to have a nice blend of youth and experience on the pitching staff, and Joey Votto is some kind of hitter. But the system sees them having another blah year because of a consistent inability to score runs.

Milwaukee: 77-85
Pitching is the big question... if Yovani Gallardo can take a step forward, if Randy Wolf can repeat his Dodger success, if Doug Davis can again be the solid pitcher he was in Milwaukee for a time, if... well, you get the iffy point.

Houston: 72-90
You would think with Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez, with Lance Berkman and Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee that things could turn around. And maybe they can. At least the Astros are not...

Pittsburgh: 61-101
It's going to take time.

National League West

Best players, by position:
No. 1 starter: Tim Lincecum, San Francisco
No. 2 starter: Matt Cain, San Francisco
No. 3 starter: Edwin Jackson, Arizona
Closer: Jonathan Broxton, Los Angeles
Catcher: Russell Martin, Los Angeles
First base: Adrian Gonzalez, San Diego
Second base: Freddy Sanchez, San Francisco
Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado
Third base: Mark Reynolds, Arizona
Right field: Justin Upton, Arizona
Center field: Matt Kemp, Los Angeles
Left field: Manny Ramirez, Los Angeles

Best pitcher in the division: Lincecum. But Dan Haren is awfully, awfully good. If Brandon Webb comes back healthy -- a real question, but if he does come back healthy -- I think Webb-Haren is an even better 1-2 punch than Lincecum-Cain.

Best player in the division: Tulowitzki barely edges out Gonzalez, Upton and Kemp in my scoring system. Barely.

And the predictions:

1. Los Angeles: 94-68
You know who is turning into a really great player? Matt Kemp. I suppose that's obvious, but I must admit that I always kind of grouped those young Dodgers players together -- Kemp, James Loney, Andre Ethier. And all three are good. But Kemp is emerging as that five-tool guy -- and he's only 25.

2. Colorado: 87-75
Last year I picked Zack Greinke to win the AL Cy Young Award ... probably my best baseball pick prediction ever. This year I'm thinking a lot about Ubaldo Jiminez. The league hit .229 against him last year. With Colorado now having a much more sane home park -- that humidor has done wonders for Coors Field -- Jiminez is a threat to have a monster year.

3. San Francisco: 83-79
I don't see the Giants scoring enough runs to get into the playoffs. But, of course, they could. And if they did sneak into the playoffs NOBODY would want to face a team that with Lincecum and Cain.... The Giants' web site lists Barry Zito as the team's No. 2 starter. Zito does show signs of being a useful pitcher again -- he was 5-4 with a 2.83 ERA in his last 15 starts -- but putting him ahead of Cain seems a bit over the top.

4. Arizona: 81-81
With the Diamondbacks, so much depends on Brandon Webb. There really isn't another pitcher in baseball quite like him. When healthy, he basically throws his fastball three quarters of the time and even so consistently gets about 65% ground balls. His pitch just has a different sink on it from any other pitchers. When you are getting 65% ground balls and striking out 180 batters, you are going to be really good.

5. San Diego: 70-92
I'm not sure why anyone would pitch to Adrian Gonzalez with that Padres lineup.

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